Be confident and prepared: Ask the right questions.
You should consult a lawyer' when advice:
A lawyer can help by offering you legal counseling and advice, preparing documents and, if necessary, representing you in court and other legal proceedings.
The law can change often and be very complicated. Lawyers are
trained to deal effectively with these complexities, explain the
law accurately, provide legal assistance, and be aware of court
procedures, filing requirements, deadlines and other details that a
non-lawyer could overlook.
In Massachusetts, a lawyer must have attended a state-accredited law school, be licensed by the state Supreme Judicial Court, and must abide by strict rules of legal procedure and ethics.
Your goal is to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable as
both a person and a professional. Your case may involve very
personal information and your lawyer will often need to know
confidential details about you, your family and your finances to be
effective in helping you.
One of the best ways to find a lawyer is to seek a recommendation from people whose opinions you respect: an employer, lawyer at your workplace, teacher, minister, doctor, relative, neighbor or friends.
The nature of your legal problem will help define the type of lawyer you will want to hire. Often lawyers have one or more specialties, and you want to make sure your lawyer has experience in your type of case. The lawyer who did a terrific job with your friend's divorce may not have the expertise to take on your auto accident injury case.
Before meeting with a lawyer, make notes about your problem and gather all of the related documents to take with you. This will allow you to present your legal problem in the clearest and most organized manner possible. It will also allow you to focus on evaluating the lawyer's response to your case and your questions.
At the first meeting you should ask about the following topics. Keep in mind, some lawyers charge a fee for your first consultation, some don't.
After meeting with the lawyer ask yourself the following questions:
This type of charge, sometimes called a "standard" fee, is used most often for routine legal matters. For example, a lawyer may charge all clients the same amount to handle a "simple will." When you agree to a fixed fee, be sure you know what it does and does not include, and if there could be additional charges.
Many lawyers charge by the hour, and can vary from lawyer to lawyer. Your total bill can be estimated by having the lawyer project the amount of time your case will take and provide a list of filing fees and other costs.
A retainer fee may be used to guarantee that a lawyer will be available to take a particular case, and could mean the lawyer will turn down other cases to remain available. With this type of fee agreement, you may be billed separately for the legal work. A retainer fee sometimes is considered a down payment on any legal services you may need. Since this type of fee arrangement can mean different things, be sure to have the lawyer explain the fee arrangement.
This type of charge often is used in personal injury cases when you are suing someone for money. It means that you will pay your lawyer a certain percentage of the money you receive if you win the case or if you settle the matter. If you lose, your lawyer doesn't receive a fee. In some cases, your lawyer may pay some of these costs for you when they are due, but you may have to repay the lawyer.
If you agree to a contingency fee, be sure you know what your lawyer's percentage will be. Some agreements provide for a varying percentage depending on whether the case is settled, goes to trial or has to be appealed. If so, those varying percentages must be stated in the agreement as well. While obtaining a fee agreement from your lawyer is always a good idea, in contingency fee cases, they are required.
The cost of some probate and other legal work is set by law. For certain other legal problems, the court either sets or must approve the fee you will pay. Often, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be, because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be involved. But a lawyer can usually estimate the minimum and maximum limits of the fee and give you some idea of the work involved.
If you are the defendant in a criminal case and
can't afford a lawyer, the government must provide you with one. If
you need legal assistance in a civil matter and
can't afford to pay lawyer, there are programs that may be able to
If you meet certain economic guidelines, the MBA LRS may be able to refer you to a lawyer who offers reduced fees (no more than $75 an hour) for qualifying clients.
If you cannot afford a lawyer's fees, even at reduced rates, there are state and federally funded programs that may be able to provide you with free legal assistance. There are legal services (sometimes called legal aid) offices located around the state. Some types of cases that legal services lawyers will handle include eviction defense, divorce, custody, and Social Security and other government benefit matters.
You can call the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center at (617) 603-1700; or toll-free, at (800) 342-LAWS.
There are several steps you can follow to help your lawyer work for you and keep the cost of legal services at a minimum:
Remember that your lawyer must keep all information you discuss confidential.
There are many reasons why an attorney/client relationship may become unproductive. With that said, it is important that the client understand why the relationship failed and what the proper next steps should be.
There are legal resources that may be able to help you resolve
your legal problem without hiring a lawyer. The MBA has several
programs that can help answer your basic legal questions.
The first Wednesday of each month you can get free legal help, via telephone, from the MBA Dial-A-Lawyer program. On those days, from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., lawyer volunteers staff phones at the MBA to take your calls. Dial (617) 338-0610 or toll-free (877) 686-0711.
Small claims court
Small claims courts offer citizens the chance to resolve minor problems without the need for lawyers. Most small claims courts limit cases to those with claims up to $7,000, and exclude certain types of claims, such as divorce, cases involving title to property, and cases involving the state or city. In most small claims courts, anyone with a grievance can bring suit, using everyday language, for a relatively low filing cost. However, you should file suit only after you have exhausted other avenues, for example, writing directly to the person or company involved or discussing the matter with the Better Business Bureau.
Private, consumer service organizations
Your local Better Business Bureau, credit counseling service, consumer advocacy group, alternative dispute resolution center, or another private agency may be able to assist you, and provide an effective and economical alternative to hiring a lawyer. These organizations were created to resolve or correct situations that frequently recur and affect the public. Through such agencies, without the expense of hiring a lawyer, you may be able to obtain a statement of your rights, a fast recovery of property or money you have lost, or relief for other damages that you have incurred.
In many instances, government organizations and offices can also provide answers or assistance on legal matters. For example, you may be able to consult the state attorney general's office or the Department of Revenue for answers to general business, investment or tax questions. State and local governmental agencies or departments, such as local government offices that administer permits and licenses, and state boards that regulate health professions, social service professions, contractors, lawyers and others, may be able to provide information about rules and standards governing such professions and may also assist in resolving disputes or settling damages.
If you or a family member has been harmed by a medical error and
offered compensation by a medical provider, a health care
institution, or an insurance company following a medical injury, it
is important for you to understand how an attorney may be of
assistance to you during the process and before you accept
compensation. In particular, it is important that any compensation
that is offered is fair, timely, and appropriate to meet your needs
relative to your injuries.
Attorneys play an important role in advising you during this process. In particular, in order to assist you in accepting an appropriate offer of compensation, an attorney will investigate and analyze the following factors:
After investigating and evaluating the above factors, an
attorney can review the settlement agreement that will be provided
to you in order for you to accept any compensation to ensure that
the terms of the agreement are fair and reasonable to you.
Attorney representation is available through this Massachusetts Lawyer Referral Service.